MillsWyck Communications specializes in public speaking skills training. We offer public workshops, on-site corporate training, one-on-one coaching in-person or on-line, presentation design, message development, and keynote speaking.
It’s starting to be a common call here at MillsWyck Communications. “How can I become a professional speaker?” or maybe the more tentative, “Do you think anyone would pay me to speak?” Usually it’s a person with an amazing story that’s been told repeatedly they should go “on tour”. Sometimes it’s someone with stars in their eyes who believes it’s an easy way to make a living. Rarely does the inquiry come with a realistic view of what it takes to make the stage for a price that makes it worthwhile.
I have lots of follow-up questions for the prospective professional speaker, like:
What do you mean by professional speaker?
Why do you want to be a professional speaker?
Do you have a need to make money soon?
Do you know anyone who is doing what you want to do?
In addition to those probing questions, there are three basic questions I tell people they must answer to be ready to ask for and receive paid speaking engagements.1.) What are you going to say?
Unless your last name is Clinton or Bush or Zuckerburg, your first name is LeBron or Oprah, you have two first names like Elton John, a title like King or Princess, or you landed an airplane in a river or a lander on the moon, chances are people are going to want your message to have something to say to the audience rather than the simple fact that you are you or have a (great) story. Finding this message is hard. I like to get clients to cull it down to one, simple sentence. It usually takes us hours to discover.
Little things make a big difference (customer service)
Make the first easy pass (simplicity)
Ordinary people do extraordinary things every day (inspiring others)
Championship teams embrace a culture of change (overcoming obstacles)
2.) Who are you going to say it to?
Just because you have a great story or a great idea does not mean that an audience will want to hear you relate your wisdom. The more specific you can get about who you are speaking to, the more you can market and book speaking engagements successfully. “All humanity” is a bad target market. People who have had adversity is likewise too vague.
The follow-up question to knowing your target audience is this: Are these people all in the same room at the same time? If you’re trying to speak to developers using Java through SASS, then the answer is probably yes. If the target is people who have faced cancer, then they probably aren’t all at the same conference at the same time. That makes marketing more difficult.
Engineering and Construction owners and managers
Youth who aspire to play a role in politics
Agile programmers and managers
Leaders and executives facing large-scale change
3.) Who is going to pay you to say it?
This is the reality check for a lot of great people with great messages. The most common example is people who want to inspire youth to stay off drugs or find their purpose in life or a great cause like animal rights or educating the homeless so they can be productive members of society. The problem in most of these cases is the audience is not likely to pay a cent to hear your message. Youth aren’t lining up with wallets open to hear people inspire them to become wonderful adults. Adults may pay to have the youth in their life hear such a message, but we’ve got a gap between who hears the message and who pays for the message. Identifying the buyer is critical for any business, and none more criticial than speaking.
(very common) The corporate sponsor of a large-scale event (division meeting, customer conference, trade show/expo)
Team leads and managers with a specific need (everything from college coaches to a sales manager to a church or civic organization)
Meeting planners (hired by some entity to handle the hiring of a speaker)
These questions are necessary, but not sufficient. You’ll also need a presence (most likely a web presence) to show your legitimacy. You’ll need a method (email, direct mail, cold call) to contact your buyers. You’ll have to have a sample video to demonstrate competence (people are not going to hire a speaker sight unseen). You’ll probably need some method for collecting names and prospects to have a constant prospect list. You’ll need a system for following up to close the deal. And you’ll need a rate sheet everyone can understand so you can get paid. There are a LOT of variables and nuances. The de facto leader in educating and implementing the business of speaking is the National Speaker’s Association. You can spend tens of thousands of dollars with their members putting a system in place. Many are worth their fees, and then some. But at its core, speaking is just another business. You must have a worthy product presented to people who have a need and the ability to pay. You must overcome obstacles and strike quickly when opportunity arises. Nothing in this article is proprietary or worthy of you spending any money. You don’t need a consultant to get started. You just need a message and an audience. Some sales skill helps, too.
There are other questions that you’ll need answers to before considering a career as a professional speaker, but they aren’t critical for a starting strategy:
Should I ever speak for free? Why or why not?
What about speaker’s bureaus?
Do I need a book? A collateral product?
Should I also consult? Train? Coach?
What is your fee? Do you have a special rate for nonprofits?
And if anyone is shocked when they find out you make thousands of dollars for “just talking an hour” – explain to them what it took to make the stage. It’s a rewarding business, but the work and preparation required to get to the big stage limits the competition.
Probably the best thing to do is… start.
Communication matters, what are YOU saying?
This article was published in the November Editionof our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up todayto receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.
A speaker should never mention TIME when giving a presentation. I was coaching a group presentation the other day and (predictably) one of the presenters ran over their allotted time. While we know a presenter should NEVER (ever!) run over time, what about when a prior presenter does? The schedule is off. You were promised time for your spot, but now that time is reduced.
This presenter did what I see so often, opening with, “Since we’re running a bit behind, I’ll try to speed through this a little to get us caught back up.” Of course, everyone in the room hopes this is the case. But I maintain a speaker should not mention time, except when he or she is done.
Mentioning time, even in passing, is problematic for several reasons:
It puts the focus of the listener on something other than the message. Since time is so precious, they are now more than ever aware that it is short.
It puts the speaker “on the clock” – where the audience now expects the speaker to be on time because they are clearly aware of it. This increases the pressure on the speaker.
It takes precious time away from what should be said!
One of our instructors was presenting once and had this happen – he was slotted for a 25-minute talk at a conference, beginning at 11:30. Guess what follows a twenty-five-minute talk starting at 11:30? Lunch! The previous slate of presenters gave him the stage at 11:53. If he gave the full presentation he would be drowned out by rumbling tummies. What to do? Not mention time! Instead, he used the system we teach and use which finds the core message and creates detail modularly instead of linearly. Rather than creating a script which must be read start to finish, we create blocks of modular content that can each be expanded or contracted, as appropriate. He began, “There are two things you need to know about XYZ. And a third thing I want you to remember.” He gave a one-minute opener, gave the three points less than 90 seconds each, closed in less than a minute and finished at 11:59. Then he said, “The last thing I want you to remember, there’s a buffet in the hallway outside our room with hot food.” No one other than the conference organizers really even considered that he had anything other than a 6-minute speech planned. That’s about the perfect way to handle that situation. His lunch was overrun with people grateful to not lose their lunchtime.
Take a clock with you that you can see. Find a way to present content within your allotted time. But don’t talk about it publicly. It’s a fact that only the presenter needs to know.
Communication matters, what are YOU saying?
This article was published in the September Edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up todayto receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.
Much of what I find myself doing as a speech coach is falling more into the mentorship category than the instructing category. I recently got an idea from a client. He had called to discuss hiring me to speak to his staff, something I’ve done several times for his organization. At the close of the conversation, he asked about one of his employees. “He’s someone we’ve targeted to be a key part of our future. He’s incredibly reliable and capable. But his new responsibilities will put him in front of customers. A lot. We’re not sure he’s ready for the spotlight and he has voiced some reservations about his public-facing skills. Do you think he can do it?”
With no other background and no time to prepare, it sure felt like a loaded question. Sometimes I’m amazed at my response to questions like this. The answers seem to be moments of enlightenment and I wish I could have them recorded for later. Other times… well, let’s just say I often wish I could play a do-over card.
But in this case, I loved my impromptu response. “If this is an issue about his skills – those can be taught. To anyone. And I’m your guy. But if this is an issue about self-worth and leadership, then I think that should be mentored and investigated within your organization, and most notably from you. Have you talked to him directly about how you feel and what you’re thinking?”
There was a long pause. Finally, he concluded: “I should mentor him internally.” I agreed.
I believe that mentorship is a key ingredient to growing any organization (or person) and making it last. I also observe that it is missing in most organizations. Virtually every great speaker I’ve had a chance to interview has said a mentor/coach was the key to getting them prepared for the big stage.
Most of the people I’ve run into that were fantastic speakers/communicators revealed when pressed that a mentor/coach was key in getting them prepared for the big stage. Someone took the time – rarely as part of a training program – to educate and rub off the skills, motivation, and confidence to achieve something they could not do on their own..
There are volumes written on mentorship, just like there are on speaking. And that’s the problem. Mentorship (and speaking) are not something to learn from a book.
I’ve found three elements necessary to complete true mentorship:
OCCASION: Mentorship – or even friendship – is not based on material or a program. It’s based on shared experiences. Those can be professional, personal, or even recreational. But there has to be a time that is not rushed to allow a mentee to see and learn and finally implement. It’s not about reading a book or merely trying a task.
OUTCOME: Just spending time together is not enough, unless you just want a friend. For an organization to breed people that embody their values and purpose there must be intentional molding. This is no accident, a happenstance result of putting high potentials in the same room. There should be a destination and a path to get here. It should have an end date and specific objective looming, to raise tension enough to get things done.
OPPORTUNITY: Mentorship aspires to have a mentee perform when called upon. This means giving leeway and responsibility. It’s more than giving advice or instruction. One of the key elements of being a mentor is to focus more on facilitating (instigating) rather than instructing. It’s allowing the mentee to come to his/her own conclusion and letting the learning come from experience and reflection rather than rote memorization and teaching.
There is SO MUCH MORE. But much of what I find myself doing as a speech coach is falling in the mentoring category more than the instructing category. In the last few months, I’ve had multiple clients walking towards a professional speaking career. It’s not enough to tell them what has to happen, it’s a process of getting them to define and decide and do.
Who in your world could lead you to where you want to be by being your mentor/coach?
That client phone conversation birthed an idea in me. Coupled with my roll-the-tens-digit birthday (read my thoughts on turning 50 here), I thought, “Why not me? Why shouldn’t I be a mentor to those I have influence with?” Since my Christian faith is the driving force behind whatever I do, it seemed natural to merge that in as well.
But I immediately came up with answers to my “Why not me?” query. Lack of time. I don’t have my act together. I don’t have a program. I was never mentored. I wouldn’t be good at it. No one would value it.
One by one, my excuses were explained away. I had another client who had been through a mentoring program. I got connected to his mentor. Suddenly I had advice, a curriculum, and a system to mimic. I heard my own advice to multiple friends and clients: “We make time for what’s important to us.” I reached out to my network and found there were lots of links to young(er) men.
In January I started my mentoring pilot with four men I’d never known before. It has been one of the most rewarding and exciting things I have ever done. I’ve met four delightful new friends. We studied life, grace, family, character, purpose, and money. I’ve gotten a chance to grow myself more into the man I want to be. I’ve been held accountable to do the small things. And I’ve discovered purpose and meaning beyond what I normally get through my vocation.
I’ve decided to run another program this year. But I’m again facing doubts. How will I get a new crop of wiling mentees? Will they be as good as the first group? Do I have the energy to sustain this? But I remind myself of the principles in my newest keynote: The Four Questions. And the answers to those questions drive purpose and provide motivation.
I’m trusting my network. If you know men, aged 25-40, in the Raleigh area, who are serious about tangibly living a Christian life, then have them contact me. They should be married, with or without kids that are not yet in high school, and be committed to living life transparently and passionately for a year that will change the rest of their life. We meet once a month September-June. Who do you know that could benefit from such a faith-based mentorship program?
Communication matters, what are YOU saying?
This article was published in the August editionof our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up todayto receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.
We just passed a milestone anniversary here at MillsWyck Communications. It was just over ten years ago that I said goodbye to my corporate job at (what was then) America’s Best Place to Work and the steady paycheck to become a public speaking trainer. I was convinced that my passion to teach and the few nuggets I felt worthy of sharing would convince others it was worth paying me (now us) to help them become world-class speakers. It seems like a long time ago.
While I’ve never missed a mortgage payment, my family has eaten every meal, and I am blessed beyond my wildest imaginations, the difficulty in running a business surprised (and still surprises) me. While I married into an entrepreneurial family with a high tolerance for risk, my own discomfort coupled with the economic environment I stepped into in 2008 has made this much more difficult than I imagined.
Here are a few nuggets I have learned about business through being a consultant-speaker-trainer-business owner for the past 10 years:
No one else will ever care as much as you do about your passion.
If people don’t pay you for your expertise, you have a hobby, not a business.
Life and business have far more details than you are qualified to handle. Get help.
Along the way, I’ve learned a lot more about speaking as well. When I began the business, I had done enough research and learned a bit from some masters that gave me a curriculum and a product I felt was worth selling. But very quickly I observed that speaking is not an intellectual endeavor that relies on knowledge. It is a SKILL that thrives on focused practice and is more governed by culture and habit than any compilation of intellectual wisdom.
I now have adopted a few core tenets that seem to apply to most every speaker I observe or coach.
Here are the Top 3 Tips I’ve gleaned in a decade of being a public speaking trainer and coach:
Have a point and share it clearly. A point is different from facts, knowledge, or data. Far too often – especially with high knowledge workers like engineers, scientists, and leaders of any type – speakers confuse sharing what they know with having a point. One of the reasons this is difficult for people my age (that used to mean “young” – now it means “experienced”) is that we grew up watching (and thus believing) that knowledge really mattered. It used to be that the only people with knowledge were those that had studied. A college education meant you knew something no one else did. Now, everything man has ever known is available to anyone who can get to a public library or owns a smartphone. MIT puts all their lectures online for FREE. Your audience can Google your topic and learn more facts reading their phone than listening to you. Anyone can get knowledge; what people need is insight and wisdom. And what they want is to be entertained (have their mind captured). That’s where you come in. Tell me what that data means (to me); share how I can use that fact in my life; make it more fun to listen to you than to read Wikipedia. (And never run over time!)
The specific is more powerful than the generic. Somewhere along the way, I noticed that most speakers overuse worn-out clichés and generalities, but seldom give details that matter. Drop the terms “thing”, “stuff”, “issue”, “problem.” Instead, use specific examples that your audience is likely to connect to. (Read my past article on How to engage your audience: Be specific.) This engages their brain, gets them thinking about the topic, and makes you more relatable. I was recently coaching a graduation speech that discussed the “struggles” that each graduate had overcome. We dropped in specific struggles (money, time, motivation, purpose) and uncovered a theme that helped the rest of the speech as well. It’s easy to be cheesy; being exact gives you impact.
Rule #1 is still Rule #1. Your speaking is not, nor will it ever be, about you. I’ve had students and clients challenge me on everything from how to open a speech to how to ask questions to how long they should talk. But no one has ever (successfully) argued that putting the audience first is a bad way to approach speaking. Any time I stumble or get stuck in preparation, reminding myself of this important cornerstone always leads me out the morass and to the purpose of my talk.
Thank you for being a part of this stage of my journey as a public speaking trainer and coach. Using my talents and gifts to push others to have impact on the stage of life gives me great joy. I’m as energized (and nervous) about what I do now as I was ten years ago. My mind is always dreaming and thinking of how to make our influence greater and our expertise easier to consume. May the next ten years as a public speaking trainer and coach bring even more lessons that others can benefit from.
What insight do you possess that needs to be shared!?
Oh, and 22 years ago today I experienced another momentous day! Happy anniversary to my partner in this journey of life, business, and parenthood. Haley is a God-given gift and the perfect complement to my stream-of-consciousness style to living.
Communication matters, what are YOU saying?
This article was published in the June editionof our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.
Speech hackers can usually be addressed with the appropriate amount of preparation, but our website was hacked. Again. It was the fourth major attack since January. Each time it rendered the website an alarming (literally) mess of malware and phishing links. It was annoying. Embarrassing. And it hurt our business because prospects and clients couldn’t reach us and it sucked resources away from other tasks.
For several months, I fought back by cleaning things up with my rudimentary web skills (I did learn HTML back in the early 90s, and PHP in the early 2000s, and … well, I’m not very current on modern technology). It took an hour. Or a few. It was tedious and repetitive. Searching for files and deleting them. I’d update all the plug-ins. And wait. Another breach would happen again a few weeks later.
Finally, it just got too annoying. I paid an expert (props to Page Progressive!) and the transfer to a new secure hosting service was done in less than a day. They’ll be able to monitor attacks and keep things up-to-date. I can sleep easier now.
We do have a new system to learn. There were tons of broken links and edits and color changes and formatting to polish and a few improvements to make while we’re in editing other files. It was not without headaches. And it will never be “done.” But we are confident you can visit our website now without risk of a virus. The information is easier to find and read and get what you need.
What does a hacked website have to do with speaking, you ask? A lot.
There are so many speech hackers that undermine a speech or meeting.
Examples of Speech Hackers:
Speech hackers might be malicious – the heckler or the meeting attendee with a cruel agenda.
More likely it’s the person who is just clueless: “I need to make a few announcements ahead of your speech – it will only take a minute” (and it takes ten).
Many times it’s self-inflicted – not putting in the preparation time to overhaul old content and just getting by with last year’s slides because the urgent trumps the important.
Three lessons we can learn about speaking from a hacked website:
The public doesn’t care about your problems. While a few of you were nice enough to alert us to the problem (and one well-meaning soul from Spain threatened us with a lawsuit), whether you’re prepared or not, the stage is calling. When the boss calls your name at the meeting, the start time for the conference comes, or the reporter sticks the mic in your face, it’s showtime. Your preparation is a moot point now. All that matters is what the public sees.
Experience is the best defense in a moment of need. The more well-versed you are in a subject, the easier it is to handle new problems. Speaker experience is key when the stage lights get a little hotter than you like. Training matters. And there’s only one way to get experience – say “Yes!” to the stage!
Call in the experts. When a problem is just bigger than you are, a second set of (expert) eyes is worth whatever it costs. Your slides likely need a designer’s touch. Your skills could use some coaching. Your team is likely to have input that will make your presentation better.
The average person browsing the web has no idea what phishing is, how WordPress templates work, how to reset the cache on DNS lookups, or what a secure HTTP protocol gains you. They just know when a website is down (or giving off warnings), they probably aren’t coming back. An audience member probably has no idea the preparation and expertise a speaker has invested. They only know if the talk is easy to listen to, handled professionally, and gives them value.
What speaking improvement have you been putting off?
We have trained thousands on the importance of communicating with excellence. Whether you need one-on-one speech coaching, public or on-site corporate training workshops, a motivational keynote speaker for your conference or event, or just need a connection, we’ve got you covered.
Communication matters, what are YOU saying?
This article was published in the April 2018 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.
The question of how to start a speech seems simple and there are several ways to open your presentation. Using a story is a great way to start a speech.
I just attended the fabulous KEY5 Conference in Charlotte, NC. The concept is simple – put professional speakers on the stage for five minutes, create top notch videos of them, and capture audience testimonials. Think TEDx, demo reel, conference, and marketing push all mixed together. Every one of the speakers had something worthwhile to say and the audience was never put to sleep because the event moved really fast. Every speaker did a FANTASTIC job.
But I have some inside information. I helped coach many of the speakers. It was one of the few times I have gotten to see the live delivery of a speech I’ve coached. That was a special treat. But there is one other surprise. I was also one of the speakers at the event. Five minutes to get my message out. I felt that people would expect me to be at least decent. And I wanted to be much more than decent.
It was probably the toughest speech I’ve ever written. I was trying out new material (a no-no when the stakes are high – try it in a risk-free environment first!). I was slammed for time and utilized a skill I perfected in college – procrastination. I had preached to the speakers in our monthly coaching calls that the way to write a five-minute speech is not to trim your one-hour keynote, but to build a new speech from the ground up. I did just that. My core message was fleshed out a long time ago and it was solid. I had to make some decisions about which example, story, and data backed up my points the best (and in some cases, the fastest), but I was happy with the core block of my talk. It was just under four minutes.
It was the open and close where I was struggling. The opening I wanted to use was the personal backdrop of why the topic (coaching and self-evaluation) is important to me. I could easily use 20 minutes to hash that out. The trimmed version was over three minutes. That won’t do for an intro to a five-minute talk (I usually use the guideline to use about 10% of your talk time for an open AND a close combined). I was at a frustrating crossroads driven by the external constraint of time.
The saving way out came in the form of my own teaching on how to start a speech. I led a discussion for part of our fantastic PRiSM Speaker’s practice group the day before I left for the conference.
We were discussing… openers and how to start a speech. Few people doubt that stories top the list, but the #1 question is always “How do I know what story to use?” I had the answer. Find your core message. Reduce it to a sentence or a phrase. Then brainstorm stories that talk about or imply that singular point. Make the segue to your content. And come back and end the way you started.
As I was helping lead this discussion by using some examples from our group, I had one of those sky-parting-angels-singing moments. “Hey, speech coach! Why don’t you do that on your own speech!” There was one complication, I had almost no time to sit and brainstorm and think. So I used the three-hour commute to the conference and the Bluetooth connection to my truck and my phone to and record my new opening. The new opening did nothing I originally set out to do – covering why the topic mattered to me. And that probably violates rule #1 (it’s not about me) anyway. But it did what I said it would do. It got me into my content (in 37 seconds) and gave me an exit and call to action at the end. And when I sat down to compose what my phone recordings were telling me worked, it took less than 15 minutes to have it all ironed out. I was very pleased with the result. My experience doing this for others helps, to be sure, but once you have the message hook and use it to start a speech, it’s a relatively easy task to find an opener.
The morals of this story:
Moral #1: if you believe in your system/product/secret enough to sell it to clients, it better work for you!
Moral #2: Don’t be so married to your content that you are not willing to change it. More than one speaker told me they resisted my suggestions to their speech, but their practice and their frustration eventually told them they should just give up and take the suggestions.
By the way. Several of the speakers confessed that they spent over 40 hours preparing their five-minute speeches. I meandered into the room late on the eve of the big show and there was a speaker on the stage practicing. The next time you see a keynote speaker and think it’s easy work, please reconsider your position.
How much time are you willing to spend to make your next meeting, talk, or message stand out?
We will give you insights on how to start a story in our Power of Storytelling in Business and Life workshop. We also cover how to segue to and from the story, how to make it interesting, making sure your audience applies your story, and how to practice storytelling. Great speakers tell stories well. Come and join us to find out how!
Communication matters, what are YOU saying?
This article was published in the February 2018 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.